Portents and prospects

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has asserted in an interaction with reporters in Lahore over the weekend that October 13, the date for the next hearing in the Supreme Court of the NRO case, will come and go, but the government will complete its tenure. To ensure this outcome, the prime minister argued, he was willing to take “tough decisions”, uppermost being cutting down the size of the huge cabinet. What may have prompted these thoughts are the rumours doing the rounds once again that a ‘change’ is imminent. Mercifully, if it can be called that, the idea of an extra-constitutional or anti-democratic intervention seems to have been abandoned in the face of few if any takers for an idea that has been tried and found wanting too many times in the past to have much purchase today. If a change is coming, the theorists of such an event say, it is more likely to be an in-house change from within the existing parliament. On the face of it, the numbers to remove some or all of the incumbents and bring in a new slew of faces do not add up, but stranger things have been known to happen in the Islamic Republic. If there is a question that remains, it is whether the prime minister can or will carry out a purge and downsizing of the cabinet in time to save himself and stave off any further inroads into his government. The complication is that unless the president (also co-chairperson of the PPP) agrees to the changes, the prime minister may just end up whistling in the wind.Without necessarily descending to the level of conspiracy theories, there is no denying the fact that the imminent demise of the government elected through the February 2008 elections has been predicted again and again since it took office in March that year, and predictably the ‘forecasters’ tended to come from what began suspiciously to look like a cast of usual suspects. However, whereas their earlier prognoses and even dates of departure may have come to naught, can the incumbents sleep soundly still? Or is some kind of endgame looming? What may encourage the opponents of the government, especially those with a pronounced visceral hatred of certain personalities if not the PPP entire, is the sense of drift, lack of grip and policy paralysis of the government. Incompetence and rumours and allegations of rampant corruption are not doing the government’s case much good either, especially in cases where the two charges are seen as going hand-in-hand or being embodied in the same individuals. In the minds of its unforgiving opponents, the government could be rendered ‘headless’ by disempowering the president even further than the 18th Amendment proposes.

While an air of thickening uncertainty looms, the president, prime minister and downwards, all exhibit an air of confidence and bravado that is understandable but may not be sufficient to ward off the dark clouds hovering over the government. While Mr Gilani reiterates that the army is pro-democracy, it is possible to concede this view only in the context of General Kayani’s leadership so far. No one with even a nodding acquaintance with Pakistan’s history, however, can rest sanguine that this is now a permanent state of affairs and the era of military intervention has finally been relegated to the dustbin. While a direct military intervention seems unlikely at present, given the problems the country faces, there can be no ruling out of the possibility that the ‘establishment’ is working behind the scenes to usher in a ‘change’. An in-house change from within parliament may be a small mercy, given that it does not in principle violate the constitution or abort democracy, but the real question will be whether any new faces inducted through such a process will actually be calling the shots or be manipulated on strings by hidden players behind an opaque curtain. That would end up a democracy in name only, a sham and fraud, a species we are all too familiar with already.
Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has asserted in an interaction with reporters in Lahore over the weekend that October 13, the date for the next hearing in the Supreme Court of the NRO case, will come and go, but the government will complete its tenure. To ensure this outcome, the prime minister argued, he was willing to take “tough decisions”, uppermost being cutting down the size of the huge cabinet. What may have prompted these thoughts are the rumours doing the rounds once again that a ‘change’ is imminent. Mercifully, if it can be called that, the idea of an extra-constitutional or anti-democratic intervention seems to have been abandoned in the face of few if any takers for an idea that has been tried and found wanting too many times in the past to have much purchase today. If a change is coming, the theorists of such an event say, it is more likely to be an in-house change from within the existing parliament. On the face of it, the numbers to remove some or all of the incumbents and bring in a new slew of faces do not add up, but stranger things have been known to happen in the Islamic Republic. If there is a question that remains, it is whether the prime minister can or will carry out a purge and downsizing of the cabinet in time to save himself and stave off any further inroads into his government. The complication is that unless the president (also co-chairperson of the PPP) agrees to the changes, the prime minister may just end up whistling in the wind.

Without necessarily descending to the level of conspiracy theories, there is no denying the fact that the imminent demise of the government elected through the February 2008 elections has been predicted again and again since it took office in March that year, and predictably the ‘forecasters’ tended to come from what began suspiciously to look like a cast of usual suspects. However, whereas their earlier prognoses and even dates of departure may have come to naught, can the incumbents sleep soundly still? Or is some kind of endgame looming? What may encourage the opponents of the government, especially those with a pronounced visceral hatred of certain personalities if not the PPP entire, is the sense of drift, lack of grip and policy paralysis of the government. Incompetence and rumours and allegations of rampant corruption are not doing the government’s case much good either, especially in cases where the two charges are seen as going hand-in-hand or being embodied in the same individuals. In the minds of its unforgiving opponents, the government could be rendered ‘headless’ by disempowering the president even further than the 18th Amendment proposes.

While an air of thickening uncertainty looms, the president, prime minister and downwards, all exhibit an air of confidence and bravado that is understandable but may not be sufficient to ward off the dark clouds hovering over the government. While Mr Gilani reiterates that the army is pro-democracy, it is possible to concede this view only in the context of General Kayani’s leadership so far. No one with even a nodding acquaintance with Pakistan’s history, however, can rest sanguine that this is now a permanent state of affairs and the era of military intervention has finally been relegated to the dustbin. While a direct military intervention seems unlikely at present, given the problems the country faces, there can be no ruling out of the possibility that the ‘establishment’ is working behind the scenes to usher in a ‘change’. An in-house change from within parliament may be a small mercy, given that it does not in principle violate the constitution or abort democracy, but the real question will be whether any new faces inducted through such a process will actually be calling the shots or be manipulated on strings by hidden players behind an opaque curtain. That would end up a democracy in name only, a sham and fraud, a species we are all too familiar with already